25 April 2012
Evidence given to the Leveson inquiry this week illustrates why business works at establishing relationships with politicians. A clearer picture seems to be emerging of the purpose and frequency of meetings between News International leaders and Ministers. Rupert Murdoch however was emphatic that in the ten years Tony Blair was in power, he “…never asked the Prime Minister for anything, nor did I receive any favours”.
According to Tuesday’s evidence, Murdoch and his lobbyist “… worked their way through every crack in the walls of Whitehall in search of influence…” and, seeking details of the Government’s policy regarding BSkyB, they found friends in the Culture Minister’s Office where they were supplied with information, advice and support. This seems to be corroborated by the resignation today of the Minister’s special adviser. His statement is that he acted without the authority of his boss and that he had allowed a misleading impression to be created that there was a very close a relationship between News Corps and the Department.
Whether through the conduct of the Minister or his staff, the intention of influencing decision-making seems to have been achieved. This is what concerns anti lobbying groups. But would the lobbying legislation proposed by the New Zealand Greens make any difference in similar circumstances?
The Civil Service code of conduct does not extend to special advisers. They have their own code which recognises the political character of their role. This position differs from the New Zealand situation. Here, Ministerial advisers are departmental employees and subject to the State Services code in the same way as all public servants. But under the UK Ministerial code Ministers are responsible for the actions of their special advisers. Will the Westminster principle hold up? Will the Minister accept that responsibility or does the speedy resignation of the special adviser indicate that the Minister is distinguishing the actions of his office from the actions of the special adviser?